Thursday, May 19, 2011

Scenes from the Sanctity of Marriage: The infidelities of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dominique Srauss-Kahn and so many other contemporary men who occupy the male echelons of political and financial power engender many questions. I wanted to write with profundity about the moral morass and sewer-like quicksand into which these men have sunk but each minute which ticked by created more questions than I could answer.

So I will iterate some of the questions which crossed my mind about these sad marital infidels: What is marriage? What is a vow? What is hypocrisy? What is betrayal? What is human nature? What is sanctity?

Both of these men and so many others who share their moral prison could be the substance of tragic theater. Each man could be a play of Biblical proportions or at the very least a morality play of Shakespearean import.

Shakespeare in Hamlet writes:

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—
nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

Shakespeare waxes effusive about man as the apex of nature’s creation above any other animal and yet neither man nor woman delights Hamlet. I ask why not?

Sometimes the Bible used as metaphor can be instructive. Since this text was written approximately 5 thousand years ago, we can take from it that the moral turpitude of man has existed for a very long time. It is as if it is man’s shadow following him all the days of his life and from which he cannot escape. Genesis 3 says:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.’ “ And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Our politicians talk so much about the “sanctity of marriage” especially if they want to indict the nature of other groups they judge severely. Most especially politics on the right – Republican politics – is infused with moral sanctity and superiority. Republicans make marriage the hallmark of their platform. Indeed, Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke many times of the importance of marriage and the family but did so while he was sexually involved with a woman who was not his wife compounding this moral collapse by creating another life from this union. His children did not even know they were living with their half brother since Schwarzenegger had a relationship with the family housekeeper, the mother of the child, for over 20 years. How did the former governor square this with his own party’s mandate or his wife? He didn’t perhaps thinking it a career crusher if he simply told the truth.

Strauss-Kahn commits the same hypocrisy but it rises to a much more violent and serious level. If he is found guilty of the seven charges for which he is indicted – including attempted rape -- this man of extraordinary wealth and power will go to jail for a very very long time.

These two examples are staggering for their hypocrisy. They advocate for behavior that they do not exemplify themselves. Strauss-Kahn controlled billions if not trillions of dollars asking nations to comport themselves in certain moral and non-violent ways so they could be the beneficiaries of the vast sums of money he controlled. Yet, on a singular level he is alleged to have committed the most egregious behavior a man can commit short of murder. Schwarzenegger’s Republican party makes part of its platform unyielding religious precepts which the powers that be suspend anytime they want for their own scandalous purposes but remain etched in stone for the opposition.

Do vows mean anything anymore? Is marriage truly sacred and if not why do we enter into these contractual vows anyway? I aver vows in our immoral era mean little. They can be broken on a whim and all too often are. Still, marriage is a contract made mainly to protect women and children so that if a man strays he will still owe a legal obligation to and protection of his issue. It makes sense and promotes good order IF and only IF the contract is honored. The problem is often it is not and yet those who most vociferously advocate for it are often the breakers of it. It is the essence of hypocrisy.

Perhaps the most difficult of all the questions above is the notion of betrayal. That is the feeling one gets when the trust between one person and another is broken. We feel angry, aggrieved, and hurt. Again, metaphorically, of all the sins in Christianity the betrayal of Jesus by Judas for only 30 pieces of silver has to be one of the most loathsome. Judas deceived someone he loved. I thought a man’s word was worth more than that.

The Biblical and Shakespearean paragraphs above tell us that the fallen angel is not new and that the beauty of man is often tarnished when he fails to live up to the vows he makes. Nonetheless, we make them. Maybe that is what makes the Jewish High Holy Day Yom Kippur so significant because all vows are negated and in the future we make them anew and try to do better. Somehow I think Arnold Schwarzenegger will not do better nor will, if convicted, Strauss-Kahn. In the end we can judge only ourselves by these standards and as the poet Robert Frost said: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.”

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